Matt Smith says...
Yet again we saw a stubborn, single-minded defensive set-up eventually broken down by additions from the bench. We’ve left it late in our last 3 home games, defensive resistance only succumbing with less than 10 mins of normal time left. Against Gillingham we left it far too late for the comfort of anyone and it’s reasonable to question whether we got lucky again. Yet if it keeps happening and becomes a trend then the extent to which such turnarounds are lucky warrants a rethink.
With 1 goal conceded in 6 games, there’s no question that Alex Neil’s impact on our defensive resilience has been spectacularly transformative. Clean sheets against the likes of Crewe and Gillingham shouldn’t be cause for celebration, nor does it necessarily make for an entertaining spectacle, yet that particular run took in Wigan away and bodes well for confidence should we make the playoffs. If Neil’s brief was to restore solidity to a shaky backline then the primary objective has been achieved.
For all the improvements in our organisational shape at the back, there’s no doubt that this has come at the expense of our attacking play which had been so irresistible at times on many an occasion in the earlier half of the season. It’s a concern that the starting 11 hasn’t been able to find the back of the net at home against the likes of Crewe and Gillingham. Against Crewe, it seemed that we’d started with far too defensive a starting 11 but the firepower lined up from the off against Gillingham should’ve been sufficient to overpower a well-disciplined but limited relegation candidate. Hopefully, Neil’s focus can soon shift towards maximising the most of our talented but currently misfiring attacking options from the start.
Burdened by comparisons
It’s a tough gig for Alex Neil. After all the promise, and evident fruit-bearing, of a new era of free-flowing attacking football under LJ, it’s difficult to get enthused by the more pragmatic, centrist dad approach that Neil has ushered in. It’s easy to view the shift as a reversion to earlier dour displays under Ross and Parkinson but the comparison stems from our own unique context and possibly does him a disservice. Winning ugly doesn’t get the pulse racing but, for now at least, it still gets us winning and gives us a fighting chance of getting out of this league.
Joseph Tulip says...
We found a way to win!
It wasn’t pretty for the most part and it was very much a late, late show, but we got three massive points and another clean sheet to boot. A couple of frustrating draws aside, we are churning out results and that is a testament to Alex Neil’s pragmatic approach. Substance over style is absolutely fine and if it gets us into the play-offs, it’s exactly what we need at this stage of the season.
We need our full complement of defenders for the run-in. Danny Batth was signed as a no-nonsense centre back and while it was disappointing to see Callum Doyle miss out, it was pleasing to see Batth make an assured return to the side.
A peculiar set up to break Gillingham down
Patrick Roberts was a real bright spark for us on the right, as was Jack Clarke on the opposite flank.
But in the first half, they cut inside time and time again, especially Roberts, who made a few flurries across the pitch.
There’s nothing wrong with cutting inside, but our fullbacks weren’t overlapping, so we badly lacked width and weren’t able to get in behind the Gillingham backline.
Playing through the middle made it easier for their centre backs, but we did improve our pattern of play in the second half and added more variety to our attacks.
League One tricks
An early goal for Sunderland would have put an early stop to it, but the sheer time-wasting and general dirty tricks from Gillingham was disgraceful.
After four seasons in League One we really must be wiser and kill teams off earlier before they take over the show with their constant fouling and time-wasting, with one player delaying the game just because he had cramp.
Justice was done however with our Fergie Time winner!
Malc Dugdale says...
3 points were all that mattered and we got them!
It was a game of attack versus defence for the whole match but we found a way in overtime, and if we do that nine more times, we are up. For now, we are back in the playoff places which will do for now.
It’s such a huge bonus to have Broadhead back and he scored on his return, albeit from the bench. Teams have learned how to handle Ross Stewart, and having another attacking dimension who is very different to Ross but can complement him is an absolute blinder.
Struggles in front of goal!
We struggled so much for over 90 minutes to find a way through - we have to be a little concerned. We will have to be more creative, penetrative and clinical in the remaining games but hopefully, nobody in the top six tries to park the bus as many have this season, and as did the Gills. They return home with a bus with a hole in it where Broadhead’s header went through.
The flowing football really struggled to flow!
We have to avoid playing down to the level of the opponent and we need to be impressing our own playing by style on the opposition. Alex has slammed the back door shut, but we must make sure our go forward is bang on too.
Kelvin Beattie says...
For most of his time on the pitch, Alex Pritchard was at the heart of most of the good things that happened. He was lively and skilful and caught the pace of the game fairly quickly despite his lay-off. One audacious bit of skill on the edge of his own box, when he flipped the ball over an on-rushing opponent and side-stepped another to set a break away was worth the admission fee. His performance augers well for the run-in.
An injury time winner!
There is nothing quite like a last-minute winner! Like many around me and some who had already left the ground, I had just about accepted it was not going to be our day. Nathan Broadhead’s winner was made all the sweeter, given the time-wasting tactics of our opponents. The statistics on Saturday’s game arguably support the view that we dominated in every category, I could not argue with this and last minute though our goal was, we got the victory we deserved.
Who’s your Father?
I often wonder what is the point at railing at match officials? They rarely change their minds, and often appear to favour the opposition once they are recipients of our “advice & encouragement”! The match officials were poor. The ironic cheers aimed at the linesman by the South-West corner when he eventually gave a decision our way on 32 minutes were particularly well deserved - in a season of generally poor officials this team more than lived down to their colleagues low standards.
Getting past the parked bus!
It’s been highlighted before, but we don’t half struggle at times to get past a massed defence. The teams in the bottom half of the league have made us look quite ordinary at times this season. Nonetheless, we have our victory and can look forward to Oxford next week.
Andrew Smithson says...
Keep on keeping on!
There seemed to be a bit of a buzz within the crowd in the opening few minutes that you wouldn’t perhaps expect for a club that had fallen out of the playoff spots, and the team seemed lively too. We were unable to capitalise, however, yet the fans and the players kept going and it paid off in the end. There was very little in the way of negativity and although it was tough going the players continued to push and look for the ball. Key players are coming back, our fitness levels would appear to be improving and the fact nobody gave up means we got a winner that could prove season-defining.
Tight as a drum!
Patterson claimed a couple of balls well but had nothing else to do because those in front, despite switching to a back four, were solid. Wright in particular had a good game I felt, and Evans and O’Nien in front of them did a job, and a run of only one goal conceded in six games is just what we needed. Forget the dominance possession-wise, we’ve seen it all too often before where a game like this would end a draw after we’d let a sloppy one in - hopefully, that is going to be much rarer going forward.
I was calling for Alex Neil to switch Roberts and Clarke for a spell in the first half, just to mix things up. Having them cut inside was bringing some joy, but after a while, I think Gillingham clicked on and a few more runs down the outside and to the byline may have tested them in a different way. That said, I wanted Dan Neil to come on and yet it was the three subs that were used who linked up for the goal so it shows what I know.
Leaving it late!
A winner in added on time will always create good celebrations but these late goals are doing nothing for my nerves. Gillingham had a cheek complaining about Gooch and Patterson supposedly time-wasting after we did score - funnily enough, I call it nous when we are doing it, but we won’t always get a late goal and my heart rate would be a lot calmer if we could win a couple of games now with something spare, please!